Yes, some, but not as quickly as you may think

Change is hard. Think back to the time, decades ago, when safety was not a top priority for mineral explorers. How did we move forward to today, where every meeting starts with a safety share, and every field day starts with a toolbox meeting? We critically analyzed the risks and decided the business and personal consequences of maintaining the status quo were not acceptable. Over many years, champions for health and safety worked tirelessly to raise awareness and introduce a new vocabulary around risks, hazards and controls. Senior managers led by example and insisted that health and safety be a priority, ingrained in our culture. The small number of incidents and reported near misses provide a constant reminder of that priority. Now, we must apply the same effort and energy to improving diversity, equity and inclusion.

Barriers to diversity, equity and inclusion are not limited to women. Other underrepresented groups, including Indigenous people, immigrants, people of colour, people with disabilities and LGBTQ+ people, face similar barriers. This article discusses women specifically because data is more readily available.

Progress? The data says otherwise

On the surface, we appear to have made modest gains, particularly concerning gender diversity. Before the 1960s, there were close to zero women in mineral exploration roles, and today, around 15 per cent. This is progress, but the industry remains over 80 per cent male in almost all categories, particularly in senior roles. The disconnect between verified data and individual perception of progress is a major stumbling block.

According to McKinsey & Company’s 2017 “Women in the Workforce” report, many employees think women are well represented in leadership when they see only a few. Any urgency to change is calmed if we can list a handful of successful women. In exploration and mining, the names Eira Thomas, president and CEO of Lucara Diamond, Michelle Ash, former chief innovation officer at Barrick Gold, Cynthia Carroll, former CEO of Anglo American, and our own Kendra Johnston, president and CEO of AME, are often cited examples. If a few women have broken through the glass ceiling, it is easy to think that the barriers women face no longer exist. This acceptance of small deviations from the norm lies in stark response to the rapid response a single safety breach receives.

Organic vs. systemic change

Any assumption that mineral exploration and mining companies can maintain the status quo and inclusion and diversity will naturally increase without additional effort is false, explains Jamile Cruz, engineer and founder of diversity and inclusion consulting company, I&D 101.

“There is nothing organic about the way we manage health and safety today,” says Cruz, noting, for example, the prescriptive health and safety signage at every mine, office and exploration project in our industry. These signs do not simply say “use your judgement” but issue specific instructions in response to identified hazards, right down to handrail use and wearing certain personal protective equipment.

Over the past two decades, Cruz transitioned through various roles as an engineer on major mining projects, including Voisey’s Bay, into a consultant helping companies build diversity goals into overall business strategy, working with leaders to shape inclusive workplace cultures. “It became very clear, the higher I got, how lonely I was, first through the gender lens and then, even though Toronto is very diverse, through a race lens,” says Cruz. “Gender, ethinic and other aspects of diversity are definitely not reflected at the executive levels in mining companies.” Cruz says that progress on diversity and inclusion will gain momentum when we recognize the difference between organic and systemic change.

Building forward momentum

Cruz uses a change maturity curve to explain our progress. Over the course of any significant structural change, an organization will progress from inactive, through reactive and active, to proactive and to the end goal of dynamic integration. “The industry as a whole is still moving from inactive to reactive,” says Cruz, characterizing inactive as a person embarking on a new exercise and eating regimen who knows they are supposed to be eating fruits and vegetables and exercising, but sits on the sofa, wishing for a healthier lifestyle.

“Now, apply the same approach to inclusion and diversity in mining,” says Cruz. “Are we doing the basic steps needed to call ourselves an inclusive industry and to achieve our goals?” To move forward, says Cruz, we need to make the required changes to our systems so they deliver the outcomes we want. In other words, systemic change. The single act of recruiting one woman to your board is just the start of the reactive phase. Systemic change requires an orderly approach, investment allocation, definition of clear goals and accountability, and assignment of directed resources.

“We need to be setting key performance indicators like we do with safety and environmental goals,” Cruz says. “We must set goals and measure our performance. Business as usual is not good enough.” Just as field geologists must immediately locate themselves on the map when in new terrain before planning their next steps, we, as an industry, must take a moment to locate ourselves on the diversity and inclusion maturity curve. Only then can we start applying the same rigours we have applied to health and safety reform to disrupt the diversity and inclusion status quo in our workforce.

A boys club…For girls

The Artemis Project helps women led contractors overcome the “buddy” system Diversity and inclusion must also expand beyond a company’s walls and into its supply chain. In exploration, these are service providers and suppliers such as helicopter and drill companies, specialist technical consultants, laboratories, heavy equipment operators, seasonal workers and more.

Consultants Elisabeth Ronacher and Jenna McKenzie co-founded Ronacher McKenzie Geoscience in 2014 to supply integrated geoscience technical services to exploration companies. The team has grown to include additional senior exploration specialists but Ronacher and McKenzie noticed that contracts were passing them by. “Potential clients have admitted to going with “buddies” despite our integrated offering,” says McKenzie, noting that people rarely reach out to new suppliers. This short-sightedness fits into the inactive stage of the change maturity curve. So, when Ronacher and McKenzie heard about a new network for women entrepreneurs called the Artemis Project, they were at once interested. The Artemis Project, founded by Heather Gamble and Laura Mottola, is a business generator that actively connects female entrepreneurs with large mining companies. The goal is to help established, women-led businesses grow and reach new clients while providing an untapped stream of diverse perspectives and skills to help companies innovate and meet environment, social and governance goals.

“Being an entrepreneur can be lonely,” says diversity consultant Jamile Cruz, a fellow Artemis member, “What Artemis does is put women led companies and entrepreneurs in front of decision-makers.”

“We don’t want preferential treatment; we just want to be noticed,” adds Ronacher, “We want to be shortlisted so we can be considered for opportunities and then present our technical capabilities.”


  • Kylie Williams

    Kylie Williams is AME's Director, Communications and Member Relations. She is an accomplished geologist, communications professional and award-winning writer specializing in earth science, technology, business, and responsible resource development.

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